From school leaver to workshop foreman

 Oxford-based British Woodworking Federation member, Gelder Joinery, champions National Apprenticeship Week

Joinery workshop foreman, Beau Hewlett, started at Oxfordshire firm Gelder Joinery at an early age after leaving school before finishing his GCSEs.  He soon found that a woodworking apprenticeship would put his life on a more successful path.  

Beau explains, “I started a permanent work experience placement at Gelder Joinery after leaving school aged 14. I wasn’t getting on terribly well with school and for the last couple of years I spent my school hours at the Gelder Joinery workshop. It was completely different and something I would look forward to every morning.”

An early introduction to woodworking

When Beau joined Gelder Joinery, where his brother Carl Hewlett was working at the time, he had no experience of the trade and hadn’t studied woodwork at school. He went on to complete his GCSEs and a long-term placement, after which he was offered an apprenticeship.

“Staying on to complete an apprenticeship and gain NVQ qualifications was a no-brainer after developing a passion for the trade. Being able to make something with your hands, see it through from initial drawing to completed installation gives you a real sense of achievement, and for someone who’s more hands-on and practical like me, it’s a perfect fit,” he added.

Gelder Joinery designs, manufactures and installs windows, doors, garden rooms and internal fittings for new build, renovation and heritage projects. It’s skilled and experienced tradespeople support the development of the next generation of woodworkers. Beau recalls, “Hands-on learning in the workshop is something that you just can’t get from the classroom – the amount I’ve learnt from colleagues who are 50, 60 years old and have decades of experience is invaluable.”

Since completing his apprenticeship in 2007, Beau has worked his way up within the company and was appointed joinery workshop foreman in 2015. In his new role, he oversees the day to day running of the workshop, supports apprentices and checks the quality of all products produced. His role is now 60% management and 40% hands-on joinery – the perfect balance for Beau who says he’s not suited to an office-based job.

Apprenticeships are vital to the woodworking industry and Gelder Joinery regularly supports the development of new woodworkers on their journeyinto the sector. Providing apprentices with experience of the workplace and helping them gain their woodworking qualifications, the company currently has three apprentices at various stages of their three-year course. Throughout their course each apprentice works alongside every member of the team so that they can learn aspects of the trade from all the firm’s qualified professionals.

Beau adds: “Woodworking is a craft, and it’s a great feeling to make something that lasts a lifetime. An apprenticeship can open doors to so many roles – not only within your trade but to the wider industry. A woodworking apprenticeship gives you a firm background and understanding of building materials and how a construction site works, so could be the entry to wider roles such as site manager or CAD designer.”

This is just one story from a British Woodworking Federation (BWF) member sharing how an apprenticeship is a stepping stone into a long and successful career. Woodworking is an extremely diverse and talented sector with design, production and management roles, as well as office-based marketing and sales roles, so it’s unsurprising that the sector has one of the highest ratios of apprentices in the economy.

Helen Hewitt, CEO of the BWF said, “Our members lead the way and offer apprenticeship schemes that support the development of the next generation of talented woodworkers. Hands-on practical training is invaluable at the start of a successful career. Beau’s progression to joinery workshop foreman and his passion for the woodworking sector is a testament to the investment that companies like Gelder Joinery make to develop next generation within our sector.”

Family business overcomes skills shortage thanks to tenacious apprentice

 Carnforth-based British Woodworking Federation member, J Dixon & Sons, champions National Apprenticeship Week

J Dixon & Sons is a small family-owned business that, until a few years ago, had no plans to employ an apprentice. But that all changed due to the skills shortage and the tenacious and proactive attitude of Samuel Orchard who secured a successful three-year apprenticeship at the joinery firm.

Overcoming the skills shortage

Owner of the 100-year old joinery business, Jonathan Dixon explains, “When Samuel approached me about an apprenticeship with the firm, it was his positive attitude and skillset that first grabbed my attention. At the time I wasn’t looking to employ another joiner but because of Sam’s enthusiasm and commitment he persuaded me to give him a trial week, during which he showed his talents.

“By offering an apprenticeship to Samuel we were able to recruit a talented student and support his development, while ensuring that the needs and skills required for the business were fulfilled.

“Having also started out in the industry as an apprentice, I truly believe that the apprenticeship scheme is a vital method of bridging the skills gap to ensure the future of the workforce.” Samuel was eager to go down this route having already studied full time at college for two years and was ready to enter the workplace.

Samuel adds, “Being an apprentice means that you get to work on some really diverse, exciting projects with more exposure to equipment and experienced joiners than you might do in college. In the workshop, I’ve really improved my machinery skills as all our timber is supplied roughly sawn – this is something that I wouldn’t have been able to do as much of in a classroom.”

A passion for joinery

Throughout his three-year apprenticeship he worked closely with the managers at the firm to develop his skills.

Samuel explains, “Each joiner has their own style and preferred ways of doing things. By working closely with them, I’ve been able to learn different approaches and find my own way and style of working. Woodworking is a hands-on craft, and you get a real sense of accomplishment when you’ve finished a project for a client. I really enjoy that every project is different - it means that you learn something new.”

Samuel completed his apprenticeship in the summer of 2018 and now works full-time at J Dixon & Sons.

This is just one story from a British Woodworking Federation (BWF) member sharing how an apprenticeship is a stepping stone into a long and successful career. Woodworking is an extremely diverse and talented sector with design, production and management roles, as well as office-based marketing and sales roles, so it’s unsurprising that the sector has one of the highest ratios of apprentices in the economy.

Helen Hewitt, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation said, “Small and medium business such as J Dixon & Sons, are vital to the success of the apprenticeship scheme. By working closely with apprentices to develop their skills and hone their craft, BWF members lead the way and are invaluable to the development and growth of the woodworking sector, and importantly, help us overcome the skills shortage.”

For more information about how get started on an apprenticeship scheme in the woodworking industry or to find out how to take on an apprentice visit www.wowimadethat.co.uk.